In 19th-century New York, barbecues were grand affairs, politicians and volunteer firemen gorging themselves on roasted oxen. I know this because I read about it in The Essential New York Times Grilling Cookbook (Sterling Epicure, 2014), a wide-ranging volume gathering 100 years of the paper’s coverage of the subject. With its inclusion of past articles on grilling trends and techniques—July 9, 1952: Jane Nickerson on General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s way with steaks; March 1, 1989: Marian Burros on the evolution of the hamburger—it’s great flame-licked fun.
But it wasn’t the vivid prose that won me over; it was the hundreds of vibrant recipes from scores of chefs and Times writers over the years: Mark Bittman’s quick, easy hits (Grilled Fruit: Fast and Festive), Molly O’Neill’s globalist revelations (Cambodian Barbecued Chicken), Steve Raichlen’s classics (Baltimore Pit Beef Sandwich). They are reprinted faithfully, in a sometimes disconcerting diversity of styles, but when I gave myself up to their charms, I found they yielded riches.
Take the recipe for poulet grillé au gingembre—grilled chicken with ginger—coauthored by Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franey back on May 25, 1980. It worried me at first: It called simply for grilling “until the chicken is cooked,” with no specifics as to method or signs of doneness. And it yielded so little marinade I felt it might starve the bird of flavor.
But when the chicken was indeed done (a condition I ascertained with the use of a modern-day digital thermometer), how exquisite it was. Dried thyme and bay leaf and garlic added aromatic flourish. An abundance of lemon mingled with bristling ginger to stroke the flesh with sweetness and tenderize it to a mouthwatering moistness, abetted by a final drizzle of butter. As I devoured it, I marveled that, were it not for editor Peter Kaminsky’s stroke of genius to collect the Gray Lady’s grilling in one volume, this recipe—so simple, so elegant, and so very delicious—and so many more like it may have been lost to the archives.